The 30 Best Starting Pitchers of the '90s
After finishing my rankings on the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed like there were always about 10 more guys worthy of making the list, so for this one, I expanded it to a top 30.
As with the previous two lists, only starting pitchers were considered. The players were ranked based on several statistical categories, with an emphasis on ERA and overall record.
I was blown away by the fact that six pitchers from the 1992 Blue Jays made the list, and that does not include Dave Stieb and Jack Morris. What a stacked team that was.
As you would imagine, even with the statistics, a certain amount of subjectivity on my part went into this, and because of that I'm sure not everyone will agree with me.
I welcome your feedback, be it positive or negative, and look forward to some good debate.
No. 30: Hideo Nomo
Nomo cracks the list only because of how significant he was to American baseball, as he really paved the way for the influx of Asian players in recent years.
That, and he was incredibly dominant in his rookie season. With a line of 13-6, 2.54 ERA, and 236 Ks, Nomo took home Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. He led the league in Ks, SHO (3), H/9 (5.8), and K/9 (11.1).
While he never matched the dominance of his rookie season, Nomo was still a solid starter throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.
No. 29: Todd Stottlemyre
The first of six pitchers on this list that were members of the 1992 Blue Jays. It is simply incredible how impressive that team was at the SP position.
Stottlemyre never topped 15 wins the entire decade, but he won double digits eight times and was as consistent as they come.
An innings eater, he topped the 200-inning mark five times and struck out over 200 twice.
No. 28: Al Leiter
After bouncing between the rotation and bullpen with the Blue Jays, Leiter joined the Marlins in 1996 and became one of the league's best starters.
He won 57 games in four years after leaving the Blue Jays, finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young voting twice.
His best season was his first with the Mets in 1998, as he went 17-6, 2.47 ERA, 174 Ks. His ERA was third best in the league, and his wins were sixth, as he finished sixth in Cy Young voting.
No. 27: Kevin Tapani
While his ERA and various other numbers may not be astounding, Tapani was a winner throughout the 1990s.
He was a key member of the Minnesota Twins' resurgence in the early 1990s, as he won 71 games in his five-and-a-half seasons with the team.
His best season, at least record-wise, came in 1998 with the Cubs, when he went 19-9, 4.85 ERA, 136 Ks as the ace of the wild card-winning Cubs.
No. 26: Kenny Rogers
From 1990-1992, Rogers made 213 appearances but only 12 starts, as he was primarily a reliever, and a good one at that.
In 1990, he went 10-6, 3.13 ERA, 15 saves. Two years later, he led the AL in appearances, posting a 3.09 ERA in 81 games.
In his first year as a starter, he went 16-10, and from there on, he was a solid starter for the rest of his career. His best season was 1995, when he went 17-7, 3.38 ERA, 140 Ks and made the All-Star team.
No. 25: Juan Guzman
Guzman came out of the gate strong, with a 10-3, 2.99 ERA, 123 Ks performance in 23 starts as a rookie in 1991, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting.
He followed that up with his best season in 1992, going 16-5, 2.64 ERA, 165 Ks as he made his only All-Star appearance.
He also led the AL in ERA (2.93), WHIP (1.124), and H/9 (7.6) in 1996, when he posted an 11-8 record.
No. 24: Alex Fernandez
Fernandez was the White Sox's best pitcher of the 1990s, and for a five-year stretch, he was one of the best in baseball.
From 1993-1997, Fernandez went 74-46, topping 16 wins three times and garnering Cy Young and MVP consideration.
His best season was 1993, when he went 18-9, 3.13 ERA, 169 Ks and posted a 1.164 WHIP.
No. 23: Pat Hentgen
1x Cy Young Winner
Hentgen first joined the Blue Jays rotation in 1993, and he contributed right away, with a line of 19-9, 3.87 ERA, 122 Ks. He also pitched six innings of one-run ball in his only World Series start as the Blue Jays won the title.
The 1996 season was Hentgen's best, as he went 20-10, 3.22 ERA, 177 Ks while leading the AL in CG (10), SHO (3), IP (265.2), and HR/9 (0.7) as he won the Cy Young Award.
No. 22: Andy Benes
The first overall pick in the 1988 draft, Benes was a workhorse for the Cardinals and Padres before becoming a member of the inaugural Diamondbacks team.
His big season came in 1996, when he went 18-10, 3.83 ERA, 160 Ks for a Cardinals team that surprised a lot of people with a trip to the NLCS.
He also led the NL in strikeouts in the strike-shortened 1994 season, with 189 in just 172.1 innings. Despite a 6-14 record that season, Benes received MVP consideration with a 3.86 ERA to go along with the Ks.
No. 21: Scott Erickson
Erickson was, simply put, a winner. He topped 13 wins seven times during the decade, and while he was never a team's ace, he was a reliable starter all decade.
His best season was 1991 with the Twins, when he went 20-8, 3.18 ERA, 108 Ks, leading the AL in wins and finishing second in Cy Young voting.
He was also one of the better high-workload pitchers of the era, topping 200 innings seven times.
No. 20: Charles Nagy
Largely the beneficiary of some great run support in Cleveland, Nagy was all the same their ace and a highly successful pitcher.
From 1995-1999, he was one of the best in the game, winning at least 15 games each season and posting an 80-42 record.
His best season was 1996, when he went 17-5, 3.41 ERA, 167 Ks, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting. He also started the All-Star game that season.
No. 19: Dennis Martinez
As good as he was in the 1980s, Martinez may have been at his very best in the early part of the 1990s with the Expos.
Despite what his record showed, Martinez had a great season in 1991, going 14-11 while leading the NL with a 2.39 ERA, nine CG, and five SHO, finishing fifth in Cy Young voting.
Perhaps his most impressive season, however, was in 1995, when he was the ace of a very good Indians team at the age of 40, going 12-5, 3.08 ERA, 99 Ks and making his final All-Star appearance.
No. 18: Ramon Martinez
Perhaps best known as Pedro's brother, Ramon was the ace of the Dodgers staff for most of the decade, winning double digits seven times and topping 15 wins four times.
His best season, by far, was 1990, when he went 20-6, 2.92 ERA, 223 Ks, while leading the league in CG with 12.
He finished second in Cy Young voting and made his only All-Star appearance that season.
No. 17: Andy Pettitte
After a 12-9 rookie season in 1995 that netted him a third place finish in Rookie of the Year voting, Pettitte avoided the sophomore slump in a big way in 1996.
At just 24 years old and in his first full season, Pettitte went 21-8, 3.87 ERA, 162 Ks for the eventual World Series champion Yankees.
Now, 223 wins later, Pettitte is still going strong for the Yankees, and his 14-9 record in 35 postseason starts is very impressive.
No. 16: David Wells
After serving as a spot starter for the great Blue Jays teams of the early 1990s, Wells became a full-time starter after his trade to the Tigers in 1993.
It was not until he came to the Yankees in 1997 that he took his game to the next level, as he went 51-24 from 1997-1999.
His best season was 1998, when he went 18-4, 3.49 ERA, 163 Ks, while posting an AL-best WHIP of 1.045.
No. 15: Jack McDowell
1x Cy Young Winner
While his career was more or less over by 1997, McDowell was one of the game's best with the White Sox from 1990-1993, going 73-39.
McDowell followed up a 20-10 1992 season with an even better year in 1993 when he posted a line of 22-10, 3.37 ERA, 158 Ks, leading the AL in wins and shutouts with four.
He bounced around to the Yankees, Indians, and Angels after leaving the Sox in 1995, but never matched the success he had in Chicago.
No. 14: Jose Rijo
Even though he only played until 1995, Rijo was among the game's most dominant pitchers in the early 1990s.
From 1990-1993, he went 53-33, finishing in the top five in Cy Young voting twice and winning a strikeout title in 1993 with 227.
He was also named World Series MVP in 1990, when he went 2-0, 0.59 ERA, 14 Ks in 15.1 IP and two starts.
No. 13: Jimmy Key
Key continued his solid play from the 1980s into the 1990s, as he was the ace of the Yankees throughout the early part of the decade.
He went 35-10 in his first two seasons with the Yankees, and those numbers would have been even better had it not been for the strike-shortened 1994 season.
Key put together a line of 17-4, 3.27 ERA, 97 Ks in just 25 starts in 1994, finishing second in Cy Young and sixth in MVP voting.
No. 12: Chuck Finley
A solid left-hander and a staple at the front end of the Angels rotation throughout the 1990s, Finley was one of the best lefties of the decade.
He started off the decade with back to back 18-9 seasons, and he went on to win double digits in all but one season during the decade.
He threw at least 200 innings eight times and struck out at least 200 three times, and while his numbers don't exactly jump out at you, he was solid across the board for the entire decade.
No. 11: Curt Schilling
Schilling was not even a starter until his trade to the Phillies in 1992. After he joined the rotation, he put together five seasons of at least 14 wins.
While he was not quite the dominant starter he was in Arizona and Boston, Schilling was nonetheless a top-line starter and a great strikeout pitcher.
He led the NL in strikeouts in 1997 (319) and 1998 (300) while posting rates of 11.3 and 10.0 K/9.
No. 10: Kevin Appier
As inconsistent as the Royals were during the 1990s, Appier was a consistent bright spot and the ace of the staff.
Appier spent the entire decade with the Royals until his midseason trade to the A's in 1999.
His best season was definitely the 1993 season. He posted a line of 18-8, 2.56 ERA, 186 Ks, leading the AL in ERA and ERA+ (179) and finishing third in Cy Young voting, and even received some MVP consideration.
No. 9: John Smoltz
1x Cy Young Winner
Smoltz might go down as the best No. 3 starter in the history of baseball. That is how scary good the Braves rotation was in the 1990s.
Smoltz had his best season by far in 1996, when he went 24-8, 2.94 ERA, 276 Ks, leading the NL in wins and Ks and taking home the Cy Young Award.
As good as he was during the regular season, Smoltz was even better in the playoffs, going 10-4 during the 1990s.
No. 8: Kevin Brown
Brown was the ace of every team he pitched for during the 1990s, and he put up great numbers each season, winning 15-plus games six times.
He led the AL with a 21-11 record in 1992, as well as leading the league with 265.2 innings pitched.
However, his best season was as a member of the Marlins in 1996, as he was the ace of a young Marlins team that eventually won the World Series in 1997.
He went 17-11, 1.89 ERA, 159 Ks as he led the NL in ERA, WHIP (0.944), and ERA+ (216).
No. 7: David Cone
1x Cy Young
Cone is best remembered for his perfect game with the Yankees in 1999, but he was at his best as a member of the Royals in the early half of the 1990s.
He won the Cy Young during the strike-shortened 1994 season, going 16-5, 2.94 ERA, 132 Ks in 23 starts.
He followed that up with an 18-8 season in 1995, including a 9-2 record in 13 starts following his midseason trade to the Yankees.
He also led the AL in wins in 1998, with a 20-7 record. That record was largely in part to how good that team was; however, Cone posted one of the higher ERAs of his career at 3.55.
No. 6: Mike Mussina
Despite not becoming a full-time starter until the 1992 season, Mussina was still among the decade's leaders in wins.
His first full season may have been his best, as he went 18-5, 2.54 ERA, 130 Ks in 1992 at the age of 22.
Mussina had six top-10 Cy Young finishes during the decade, and he had two seasons each of 18 and 19 wins.
He led the AL in wins in 1995 with a 19-9 record and also led the league in shutouts that seasons with four.
He also played a huge role in the Orioles' run to the ALCS in 1997, going 2-0 and allowing only 11 hits and four runs in 29 playoff innings.
No. 5: Pedro Martinez
2x Cy Young Winner
Considering he was a reliever until the 1994 season, his 107 wins are pretty impressive. But that just scratches the surface of how impressive he was.
He won his first Cy Young in 1997 with the Expos, going 17-8, 1.90 ERA, 305 Ks, despite playing for an Expos team that finished 78-84. He also led the NL in WHIP (0.932), ERA+ (219), and K/9 (11.4).
The following offseason he left for Boston, where he went 19-7 in his first season with the team. The 1999 season would be even better.
In 1999, Pedro put together one of the most dominant seasons of all time, going 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 Ks, taking home the Cy Young and the pitching Triple Crown.
He would put up similar numbers the next four seasons with the Red Sox as he returned them to prominence.
No. 4: Tom Glavine
2x Cy Young Winner
Largely overshadowed by Maddux, Glavine was equally impressive during the 1990s, winning 20 games and leading the NL in wins four times.
He won his first Cy Young in 1991, before Maddux joined the team, going 20-11, 2.55 ERA, 192 Ks with an ERA+ of 153. He was the ace of the staff that year, as the Braves made a run to the World Series.
Once Maddux joined the team in 1993, the two became an unstoppable duo, going 240-107 the rest of the decade.
No. 3: Randy Johnson
2x Cy Young Winner
The Big Unit was probably the most feared pitcher of the decade and of all time. Standing 6'10", he released his blazing fastball and devastating slider seemingly right on top of you.
He led the league in strikeouts five times during the decade and won at least 13 games every year, except 1996, when he was hurt and went 5-0.
His 1997 season was his best as a member of the Mariners, as he went 20-4, 2.28 ERA, 291 Ks, finishing second in Cy Young voting.
His trade to the Astros midway through the 1998 season marked his move to the National League, and he responded with a 10-1, 1.28 ERA, 116 Ks in just 11 starts as he propelled the Astros to the playoffs.
After that he took his game to Arizona, where he won the first of four straight Cy Youngs in 1999.
No. 2: Roger Clemens
3x Cy Young Winner
Steroids aside, Clemens is still not the best pitcher of the decade, but he is awful close.
He won at least 18 games five times, including topping the 20-win mark three times, plus took home four strikeout titles and five ERA titles.
Coming off of a 10-13 season in 1996, the 33-year-old Clemens left the Red Sox and headed north of the border to the Blue Jays.
In his two seasons with the team, he went 41-13, 2.33 ERA, 563 Ks, winning the Cy Young and the pitching Triple Crown both seasons.
After that, he joined the Yankees and continued pitching well into his 40s. Wonder what his secret was?
No. 1: Greg Maddux
4x Cy Young Winner
As many good pitchers as there were in the '90s, there is little question who the best was.
Maddux won at least 15 games every year during the 1990s, leading the NL in wins three times and topping the 20-win mark twice.
The 1994 and 1995 seasons marked the peak of Maddux's impressive career, as he went a combined 35-8, 1.60 ERA, 266 ERA+ in 53 starts, winning the Cy Young and leading the league in wins and ERA both seasons.
Pedro Astacio: 83-73, 102 ERA+
Steve Avery: 94-83, 100 ERA+
John Burkett: 119-101, 96 ERA+, 1993 NL Win Leader
Doug Drabek: 108-95, 98 ERA+, 1990 NL Win Leader
Dwight Gooden: 88-68, 99 ERA+
Pete Harnisch: 97-83, 106 ERA+
Orel Hershiser: 105-81, 104 ERA+
Ken Hill: 105-84, 112 ERA+, 1994 NL Win Leader
Darryl Kile: 92-95, 98 ERA+
Mark Langston: 93-82, 106 ERA+
Denny Neagle: 90-60, 111 ERA+, 1997 NL Win Leader
Brad Radke: 66-68, 113 ERA+
Shane Reynolds: 79-61, 109 ERA+
John Smiley: 95-79, 103 ERA+, 1991 NL Win Leader
Bob Tewksbury: 99-89, 105 ERA+
Tim Wakefield: 79-67, 107 ERA+